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Former Clifton high school principal found guilty of a 1985 murder released on parole

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Posted at 4:27 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 17:49:54-04

HUNTSVILLE, TX — Joe Bryan, a former Clifton high school principal found guilty of a 1985 murder, was released on parole thanks in part to the Innocence Project of Texas.

Joe Bryan was incarcerated for more than 32 years, and was released on parole today from prison in Huntsville, Texas, according to Innocence Project of Texas.

Bryan was serving a 99-year-sentence for killing his wife, Mickey, 33 years ago.

As a second-year Baylor Law student in November 2013, IPTX Staff Attorney Jessi Freud began reviewing Joe’s case under the direction and supervision of IPTX Board Member and Waco attorney Walter M. Reaves Jr.

Freud said she immediately wanted to work on Joe’s behalf after she reviewed his case file, and Reaves allowed her to take on the case.

“I read his trial transcript and thought, how is this possible? He was in Austin when his wife was horrifically and senselessly killed. Joe corroborated he was in Austin. It made no sense to me and, in my mind, I made the commitment to doing everything I could to fix it and get Joe home,” Jessi said.

Twice wrongfully convicted for the 1985 Clifton, Texas, murder of his beloved wife Mickey, Joe’s case received national attention after ProPublica senior reporter Pamela Colloff wrote a two-part investigation jointly published in the spring of 2018 by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. Colloff won a prestigious award for exceptional journalism for the piece and it later served as inspiration for John Grisham’s latest best-selling novel, “The Guardian”.

Colloff said she initially was just looking to do a story on any new, relevant bloodstain pattern case, but decided on Bryan’s case because it was under review at the time by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

The Commission ultimately issued a report finding that the bloodstain pattern expert’s trial testimony - used at both of Joe’s trials -was flawed and unscientific. That same expert later admitted by affidavit at the 2018 evidentiary hearing led by Freud and Reaves, that many of his conclusions were wrong.

Reaves said he is really happy Joe’s getting out, but that, “I hoped he’d be walking out exonerated, not that he’d be on parole after his appeals got denied.”

Joe, who turns 80 this September, will be living with his older brother Jim and his sister-in-law Joretta in north Houston.

Jessi and IPTX Deputy Director Allison Clayton, with assistance of Allison’s Innocence Clinic law students, will be petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States on Joe’s behalf this summer.

Choking back a few tears, before he drove away from the building he’d been housed in for so long, Joe said, “None of this would be possible without the Innocence Project of Texas. Jessi and Walter did an excellent job in representing me.”